Alterna Rises To Success
With Joan Malloy

by Michele Elyzabeth

Among the thousands of shampoos sold worldwide every year, Alterna has managed to sustain the fearless competition of hair care brands and grow steadily for the past six years. Under the leadership of CEO/President Joan Malloy, Alterna is known, respected and identified first and foremost for its Caviar line. After spending ten years in marketing at L’Oreal/Lancome, two as the international marketing director at John Freida, then five as senior VP of marketing at Frederic Fekkai, Malloy had proven herself and was ready for what was coming her way.
“When I came on board at the end of 2009, the company was quite small. It was earning a very small profit. I can’t take credit for Caviar; it was a brand when I came into the organization. I identified Caviar as quite a gem. I should tell you coming out of the corporate world, and then going into the entrepreneurial world, one of the reasons I was attracted to joining Alterna was because I felt that in my research, that it was a brand very much ahead of its time” Malloy says.
With a fresh approach and innovative ideas, Malloy drove the company to success. Becoming an inspiration and an example to young women who have a dream, she became synonymous with hope for a whole new generation ready to tackle the business world.

In a huge pool of products on the market, you have really created a niche for Alterna. How did it all start?

I had learned that in 1997, the founder: Don Crystal — who is no longer alive unfortunately, and I never got to meet him — had created this brand called Hemp, which was all paraben free.
He was really, I felt, through my research, ahead of his time. My perspective was that he didn’t name it and claim it, because 15 years ago nobody really knew what a paraben was. Nor did anyone know why it could be harmful to you. As a marketer, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to come into the organization and bring the brand back to life.

What was your strategy?

There was what I call the three P’s. I sort of lived by that. People, product and place. I immediately put in a new leadership team. That was my first objective: head of marketing, head of sales, CFO and head of operations, who could share the vision that I have, and really get onto the same page of what the vision was. And that was for me: building a luxury, multi-channel brand — being the first to do that. The second “P” was innovation with the product; to really put in an entire pipeline of innovation. I recognized that Caviar was a gem; it was ahead of its time with its anti-aging proposition of the science of skincare for hair. While we were putting an innovation behind Caviar to bring the company back to life, we ideated a brand called Bamboo, and positioned it as an accessible luxury line, and that was how we were going to really bring attention to the organization. So Bamboo was born at the end of 2010 — it was “The Year of Recalibration.” The third “P” was to put together this multi-channel distribution strategy. Alterna was really only in salons in 2009. So I identified Sephora as the best in class; a beauty destination, global retailer. And we opened up to Sephora with Alterna in 2011.

This is quite an accomplishment considering the amount of brands that want to be sold at Sephora.

Yes, and we are the number four hair care brand in Sephora in three short years. And you’re absolutely right — there’s a very long list, hundreds of brands who want to be at Sephora. I was very fortunate because previous to Alterna, I was the senior vice-president of marketing at Frederic Fekkai, and I had known all of these retailers, because I was bringing the innovation from Fekkai. And so when I made the switch, at least I had the opportunity to get inside the door and have a meeting.

Fekkai is a success story in itself as well, so you obviously are a success story yourself. (laughs)

Well, thank you. Let’s say that I’ve been in the industry a long time. I started my career at Bloomingdale’s as a merchant, but then I went to work for two big powerhouses: Estee Lauder and L’Oreal, where I got the foundation of my corporate background.

What do you attribute your success to?

I’m a very passionate person to begin with, and I believe that firstly, you have to love what you do. Secondly, I think having a vision, if you are working with products — you have to love the product. It has to deliver. My background is marketing, and if you love the product, and you’re passionate about what you do and then you have a vision for it, everything else becomes what I would consider innate. It becomes natural of where you want to take the brand, and then of course activating the three P’s as I call it. Because you’re only as good as the people around you. You can’t do it alone. At the top you have the vision, but in order to execute with excellence, you have to have a fantastic team alongside of you.

What came next?

So after the vision as I said, if you activate what I call the three P’s, get your team in place, get the innovation in the pipeline, and then build your distribution channel everything else hopefully is magic — is icing on the cake. And once we put those three building blocks in, with time, even though we were still quite small, the brand had been around since 1997, it was time to put what I call a face and a name to the brand. I did not feel like just advertising the brand with a pretty model would do the trick. So we aligned with Katie Holmes, who I felt was synonymous with our brand. She was authentic, she had gorgeous hair. She was very beautiful on the inside as well. She was doing a fair amount of charity work, which we were excited about. She was a mom; she was a stable mother. She cared less about being in the eyes of Hollywood, and more about being sort of under the radar. Alterna is a brand very much like that in a way. And our big job — our big challenge, is to double the business, to cast our net even broader and bigger. And we wanted to do that with Katie Holmes. But certainly it comes with more than just national advertising. It’s grassroots, it’s PR. She was transforming her life — we feel like our products are transformative, and transforming your hair after just one use, is our sort of benefit and brand promise.

What has been the most exciting during this journey so far?

Can I tell you honestly, when the product equity firm approached me about Alterna in this position, the truth is, I had never heard of the brand, and that’s why for me, it was so important to do the research. I saw what I called nuggets of gold; to bring a brand with unique shapes and unique colors that stand out on the shelf, free of all harsh and harmful ingredients. It’s just brilliant. So what we tried to do is to take these ‘nuggets of gold’ and really bring them to the forefront and then accelerate the brand in a new way. And part of our core competency, has to do with our innovation. We bring products to the market, like dry oil mist, when there was never an alcohol free, oil mist in the market. There were oils, but there were never dry oil mists and the inspiration came from body care. And then products like CC cream, where there was the trend of BBs and CCs for the face, but we were the first, and I still believe we’re the only hair care company that has CC cream for hair.

And then, 48-hour volume. We were talking about clinical claims against keeping your hair voluminous for 48 hours before others were talking about it. And there were other products that we have. Maybe they’re not in our top 10, but Root Blast — if you look at that product, that product was inspired, believe it or not — because we take our inspiration from everywhere. Not only in skincare, which is really a big part of our inspiration, but we can take inspiration from anything. And Root Blast was a product that we saw that cleaned the keyboard. You know, you blast the keyboard to clean your computer’s keyboard. And we thought, “What a great product.” It gives you that big burst, and so Root Blast was born.

Because we’re still small, we can’t always celebrate and communicate all of these incredible stars that we have in the portfolio. We have a sleeper product, I call it, no pun intended, called ‘overnight hair rescue.’ And we launched this product literally four and a half, five years ago, where it instantly absorbs within seconds when you put it on dry hair. It doesn’t mess up your pillow, and the next day (when) you wash it out, your hair is silk. But the inspiration of that product came from — when I worked at Estee Lauder, and I still to this day use night repair.

It’s a great product.

So the inspiration for Overnight Hair Rescue came from Estee Lauder’s night repair. Now this is a product that is brilliant, but we still have yet to have the funds to advertise it, because we have so many other priorities.

It’s great that you talk about products that are less known. Do you have any product for your lines which are in the works, coming out later this year or next year?

Oh yes, absolutely we do. In fact, we will be at Cosmoprof. We are launching — I think we can share with you — Caviar Moisture Intense. We’re very excited about it. It’s a 3-product line with the very first pre-shampoo product, which is going to be, I think, what I call a category killer. Something new in the marketplace. And then shampoo, and then a beautiful conditioner. And it’s really geared towards the woman who needs a little bit more moisture. I believe that this is a product that can also appeal to multicultural consumers, who have very dry, coarse hair — hence the name moisture intense. So it will come off of Caviar Moisture, and it’s gorgeous.

Do you work 24/7?

I will say to you that I did that growing up in my career, like we all do. And then you reach a certain age in life, where you really feel you have things really under control. You know how to work smarter, faster, better, more efficiently, and I am proud to say that I walk out of my office every day at 5:00 now.

I’m very committed to seeing Henkel Group (owners of Alterna) win. It’s been one of their overarching objectives —to win in hair care in the U.S. And I have agreed to stay on with them, and hopefully help them win. I play to win and I love a winning team. And I think we have one here.

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